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General · 20th May 2010
Campbell River Mirror - Tuesday May 18, 2010

The Cape Mudge Indian Band will continue to defy the regional district by operating its scallop farm off the east side of Quadra Island.

But that may be the lesser of the Quadra controversies as Cape Mudge Chief Ralph Dick said his people have taken steps to reclaim Rebecca Spit as well as the land occupied by the Cape Mudge lightstation.

"The new retirees on Quadra may feel they own the island, but we’re trying to get our island back," the chief said during an interview on Friday. "It will be up to us to develop Rebecca Spit or do whatever we see fit...and the (de-staffing) of the lighthouse, as far as we’re concerned, won’t be stopped."

Chief Dick represents the We Wai Kai Nation and feels betrayed by the Quadra community and Jim Abram, the area’s long-standing director on the Strathcona Regional District. Abram is also the former lightkeeper at Cape Mudge.

The chief said that native and non-native people used to work together on Quadra. But that spirit of co-operation soured over the last year as the band pursued its scallop farm project, located just south of Rebecca Spit Provincial Park in Sutil Channel.

Following a contentious public meeting on Quadra in March, regional district directors, including Abram, voted against the band’s rezoning application to allow for an underwater scallop farm. The farm is also contrary to the island’s official community plan which doesn’t allow for marine industrial activities in settlement areas.

Abram could not be reached to comment on the latest developments, but did offer the proverbial "olive branch" after directors rejected the rezoning application.

"I wish they hadn’t walked out of the meeting after we turned down the application," he told the Mirror. "Immediately after we passed another motion to enter into discussions (with the Cape Mudge band) to find another site that is suitable and acceptable to all parties."

But Chief Dick said the scallop farm isn’t moving and will continue to operate.

He said it has little impact on the environment and raising shellfish is something native people have done for thousands of years.

And he regards the criticism as trivial, "They say it’s spoiling their view."

And besides, the band believes the law is on its side. As a result of a lawsuit over the siting of fish farms, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the federal government is in charge, not the province. The feds are now in the midst of developing policy and will assume control in December.

The Cape Mudge band council believes the decision also applies to all aquaculture ventures.

In other words, according to Chief Dick, the regional district doesn’t have the authority to regulate aquaculture ventures.

The band council did send a letter on April 20, asking the regional district board to reconsider its decision, but the board maintained its position and reaffirmed its offer to help find another location for the scallop farm.

However, the farm isn’t moving and the band won’t be negotiating.

"Other than $50,000 we received from Indian Affairs for a feasibility study, we’ve invested our own money in this, almost $600,000," said Chief Dick. "It’s not going to stop...and I know the regional district is not going to cough up a million dollars for us to move it."

The chief also let it be known that the We Wai Kai have made applications to the federal government to reacquire the lightstation and Rebecca Spit properties which, he says, were stolen from the band’s reserve lands nearly a century ago.

"Our Indian reserves today occupy only a fraction of our traditional territory," the chief wrote in a public letter. "Quadra Islanders should be aware that the Cape Mudge lighthouse, Cape Mudge itself, and Rebecca Spit are all the lands the We Wai Kai Nation claims by way of both aboriginal title and through an Indian reserve interest."